Doctoral Dissertation Defense: February 26, 2018

CIIS LogoThe Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion Program

Invites You to

A Doctoral Dissertation Defense 
by
Becca Segall Tarnas

The Back of Beyond:
The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, February 26, 3:00 – 4:30pm 

Room 607 & Online via Zoom (details below)

Beginning in the years leading up to the Great War, both C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien independently began to undergo profound imaginal experiences. They had each stepped across a threshold and entered into another world, the realm of imagination, the world of fantasy. Jung recorded these initially spontaneous visionary experiences, which he further developed using the practice of active imagination, in a large red manuscript that he named Liber Novus, although usually it is referred to simply as The Red Book. The experiences narrated in The Red Book became the seeds from which nearly all of Jung’s subsequent work flowered. For Tolkien, this imaginal journey revealed to him the world of Middle-earth, whose stories and myths eventually led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings, a book he named within its own imaginal history The Red Book of Westmarch. There are many synchronistic parallels between Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books: the style and content of their works of art, the narrative descriptions and scenes in their texts, the nature of their visions and dreams, and an underlying similarity in world view that emerged from their experiences. The two men seem to have been simultaneously treading parallel paths through the imaginal realm.

The revelations of this research hold deep consequences for modernity’s assumptions of a disenchanted world, and brings to the surface implications concerning the nature of imagination and its participatory relationship to the collective unconscious. In this dissertation, I will point to the possibility that Tolkien and Jung are preliminary guides on a journey to the depths of an ensouled cosmos in which imagination saturates the very foundations of reality.

Dissertation Committee Chair:                 Jacob Sherman, PhD                             
Dissertation Committee Member:            Craig Chalquist, PhD
Dissertation External Member:                 Daniel Polikoff, PhD  

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Narrative Prologue: The Red Book and The Red Book

Prologue from The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien, written and narrated by Becca S. Tarnas. Video composition by Ashton Kohl Arnoldy.

Everlasting Concrescence: A Process-Relational Cosmology

My essay on Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy and its intersections with archetypal cosmology has now been published in Issue 6 of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, edited by Grant Maxwell.

Everlasting Concrescence: A Process-Relational Cosmology

Substantial evidence has been put forward for the astrological perspective, demonstrating the multifaceted ways in which astrology works. Yet below the surface of this evidence lies another question: why does astrology work? What does the recognition of this highly precise, yet poetically subtle, correspondence between planetary movements and events on Earth indicate about the nature of the cosmos? The evidence for planetary correlations with human affairs can, in many ways, address the alienation from the rest of the cosmos felt by the human being in late modernity. Through the recognition of such symbolic patterns, we can feel the deep interconnection that has always been present between us and our world. We are our world. The cosmic web has not been cut, although part of our human journey has been to feel as though the threads of our existence have been severed.

To read the rest of this article, please see: “Everlasting Concrescence: A Process-Relational Cosmology.” Issue 6 of the Archai journal, Cultural Awakenings, is now available in paperback and Kindle ebook.

Archai Issue 6

The Back of Beyond: Presentation at the International Transpersonal Conference

All of the presentations at the International Transpersonal Conference in Prague, which took place September 28-October 1, 2017, were video recorded and have been made available online! To view my presentation, as well as the accompanying slides, please follow the link below.

“The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien”

Red Books Presentation

Psychedelics Today: Jung, Tolkien, and Human Imagination

In anticipation of the International Transpersonal Conference, which will take place from September 28 to October 1 in Prague, I had the honor of joining Joe Moore in dialogue on his podcast Psychedelics Today. We spoke about C.G. Jung’s Red Book and J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories of Middle-earth and his Red Book of Westmarch, as well as exploring facets of transpersonal psychology, archetypal cosmology and astrology, and the participatory relationship of the imagination to the collective unconscious.

The podcast is available here: Jung, Tolkien, and Human Imagination

Psychedelics Today

Archetypes & Imagination: 2017 Speaking Engagements

This year is turning out to be full of exciting opportunities for travel and speaking engagements. In two weeks’ time I will be going to the Northwest Astrology Conference in Washington state, and giving my first presentation at a regional astrology conference. The title and description of my talk is below:

Calling the Generations: Participating in Outer Planetary Alignments
During major outer-planetary cycles, entire generations are born carrying the archetypal signature of that time. When these same outer planets realign in new configurations there is an archetypal resonance between the generations born with those alignments and the needs of that time. Each planetary combination offers unique gifts, and in our current era of social, ecological, and spiritual crisis each may have its significant role to play in creating a life-enhancing future.

I will also be offering a similar online presentation for the Nightlight Astrology School on November 7. For those in the Bay Area who may be interested in this topic, I will be presenting a longer version of this talk at the end of the year on December 14 with the San Francisco Astrological Society.

Prior to this engagement I have a few more events coming up. In August, in alignment with the total Solar eclipse taking place on August 21, I will be co-presenting with my father, Richard Tarnas, at the Oregon Eclipse Symbiosis Gathering. In honor of the eclipse we will be speaking in dialogue about the archetypal meaning of the Sun and the Moon, and the significance of their powerful conjunction during the eclipse. This is a conversation I have wanted to have for many years, and I am delighted that we will be able to conduct it in alignment with such a dynamic cosmological event. The title and description of our dialogue is below:

Solar and Lunar, Feminine and Masculine 
A total Solar eclipse, the exact alignment of the Sun and Moon, has often been described as a cosmic enactment of the sacred marriage, king and queen, ruler of the day and ruler of the night. Many cultures have considered the Solar as symbolizing the masculine, and the Lunar as the feminine. But can we speak of “the feminine” in ways that don’t fall into the trap of a cultural stereotype, and same with “the masculine”? How can we liberate these categories in a way that would do justice to the diverse ways we have of being male and female, and of being human? Perhaps the ancient archetypal symbols of the Sun and Moon can help open up our understanding of the deep mysteries of the feminine and masculine so we can better articulate the great social and psychological transformation of gender roles and identities in our time.

Finally, I am honored to be presenting at the International Transpersonal Conference in Prague at the end of September this year. I will be speaking on my dissertation research on the two Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, focusing particularly on the imagination as a realm of participatory creativity. A number of professors, alumni, and students from the California Institute of Integral Studies will be speaking at the conference.

 

All of my upcoming events are posted with relevant details on my Calendar of Events, which I update regularly. There are also several confirmed engagements for 2018 which are listed there as well.

Deepest thanks to the many people who have offered their support and interest over the years, and who are helping me bring forward my scholarly and creative work from the cocoon of graduate school out into the wider world.

Butterfly Emerging

Archetypal Panpsychism: Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman

This upcoming weekend, on January 20 and 21, Matthew Segall and I will be presenting together for the Idaho Friends of Jung in Boise on “Archetypal Panpsychism: Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman.”

Together we will make the case that a Whiteheadian cosmology is not only compatible with archetypal psychology, but provides a metaphysical foundation for key concepts of the latter—such as the collective unconscious, synchronicity, and archetypes—which are otherwise difficult to account for in a materialist view of the cosmos. Whitehead’s cosmology is often described as “panpsychist,” which means that psyche, far from being exclusively human, pervades the cosmos. Those inspired by Jung, we believe, will also find spiritual and intellectual nourishment from Whitehead’s philosophy.

Matt and I will be offering a lecture on Friday evening from 7:00-9:00 pm, and a workshop on Saturday from 10:00 am-1:00 pm. If you are in the Boise area, please see the website of the Idaho Friends of Jung for further details.

jung-vessel-of-the-sun

For those who are interested, I have several other presentations and events coming up in 2017 and 2018. For information on these engagements please see my Calendar of Events page, which I will continue to keep up to date.

Iridescent Infinity: Participatory Theory and Archetypal Cosmology

This essay, originally written in April 2012, has now been published in Issue 5 of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, edited by Grant Maxwell and myself.

“A kind of fluid interpenetration belongs to the very nature of all archetypes.  They can only be roughly circumscribed at best.  Their living meaning comes out more from their presentation as a whole than from a single formulation.  Every attempt to focus them more sharply is immediately punished by the intangible core of meaning losing its luminosity.  No archetype can be reduced to a simple formula.  It is a vessel which we can never empty, and never fill.  It has a potential existence only, and when it takes shape in matter it is no longer what it was.  It persists throughout the ages and requires interpreting ever anew.  The archetypes are the imperishable elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.”

– C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

The creative magnificence of the universe is so irreducibly complex that no human framework will ever capture the full extent of its dynamic and indefinable nature. Yet human beings need an orientation in the cosmos to allow the meanings of existence to unfold. The spiritual and intellectual quest of humanity has impelled generation after generation to engage with the divine mystery out of which everything arises, in part to come to a fuller understanding of what our role is within the majesty of the cosmos. This quest has produced a plurality of religious and spiritual traditions that diversely engage and enact spiritual truths through their practices, texts, rituals, celebrations, experiments, and customs.

The rest of this article can be read in Issue 5, Saturn and the Theoretical Foundations of an Emerging Discipline, available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook.

Archai Journal Issue 5

Exploring Jung: Astrology Podcast

I participated in a wonderful conversation on the podcast Exploring Astrology with Adam Sommer, where we spoke about C.G. Jung’s natal chart, his transits during his Red Book period, and several other astrological topics.

The podcast is available for download or can be listened here: Exploring Jung with Becca Tarnas.

Jung Mandala

Introduction: A Comprehensive Exam on The Red Book of C.G. Jung

On this New Moon in the heart of spring, I wish to share my comprehensive exam on The Red Book of C.G. Jung, which has been my primary academic focus since the start of this year. This is the second of my two comprehensive exams for my dissertation on the Red Books of Jung and Tolkien. My first exam, on the works and context of J.R.R. Tolkien, can be found here. As with the previous exam, much of the material I’ve written will be part of my dissertation, so I am again not posting it in its entirety, but rather sharing the introduction to give a taste of the work. 

A Comprehensive Exam
on
The Red Book of C.G. Jung

“The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.”
– C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections[1]

“But your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.”
– C.G. Jung, Letter to Fanny Bowditch, October 22, 1916[2]

Introduction

The sea, the mountains, the infinite expanse of stars, the fiery depths, the darkness of the abyss—the world recorded on the pages of C.G. Jung’s Red Book is not the physical domain of the outer world, the world of common day. It is the realm where dreams and fantasy visions arise. It is the wellspring of imagination. It is the natural habitat of the soul, the place where the depths of the psyche are encountered. Many creative individuals have attested to the existence of this second world and have recorded their experiences there in the forms of art, literature, and mystical revelation.Jung – The Red Book

Beginning in 1913, Jung began to engage with a series of profound, visionary fantasies, an encounter with inner images and figures that would change the course of his life. Some say that Jung had gone insane, others that he had received a revelation. Perhaps he had descended to the source where such visions emerge, whether such visions are the delusions of the insane, who are entirely severed from outer reality, or the revelations of the mystics who remind us, as Nietzsche says, that “the world is deep, deeper than day can comprehend.”[3] But rather than proclaiming himself a new prophet, Dr. Jung instead maintained his scientifically-oriented, empirical perspective: he sought an understanding of the origins of the visions, dreams, and fantasies. The journey toward understanding their source led him through the veil into the collective unconscious, the realm of archetypes.

In an effort to understand the meaning of his visionary wanderings, Jung chose to craft a record of his experience in an exquisite, leather-bound volume with the words Liber Novus—the New Book—etched in gold along its red spine. Sonu Shamdasani, editor of The Red Book, has described Jung’s unique project as “a literary work of psychology.”[4] Liber Novus can be seen as the meeting of many rivers, an intersection of psychology, art, literature, and religion—an expression of the efflorescence of human experience.

To enter into an understanding relationship with this unusual work, it must be situated: first in relation to Jung’s biography, and then in relation to the arena of world events in which Jung’s experiences were unfolding. Thus, I begin by focusing on this pivotal period in Jung’s life, drawing from several biographical perspectives and scholarly positions. Next, I look into the practice of active imagination to better understand the method Jung employed to engage with his emerging fantasies. From here I enter into a distillation of The Red Book itself, drawing forward a narrative summary of the three sections Jung composed: Liber Primus, Liber Secundus, and Scrutinies. Finally, I conclude by exploring the implications of The Red Book, first as it shaped Jung’s subsequent theories and writings, and secondly, how its publication in the twenty-first century has begun to change depth psychology, as well as our understanding of the ontology of imagination.

[1] C.G. Jung and Aniela Jaffé, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 199.

[2] C.G. Jung, C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950, ed. Gerhard Adler and Aniela Jaffé, trans. R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XCV: 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), 33.

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 333.

[4] Sonu Shamdasani, Jung Stripped Bare by His Biographers, Even (London: Karnac, 2005), 25, note 59.

 

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